The other day while I was talking with one of my children’s teachers, she lamented the modern day explosion of distractions. TV, video games, ipods and iPhones, social networking. There are many forces drawing children away what the rest of us think they should be doing. Such as…? Well, let’s just cut to the chase and say: “They could be reading.”
I’m happy to be living in this time, though. This is principally due to my very deep appreciation of indoor plumbing, but I also happen to think it’s a great age in which to be a reader. A recent reminder inspired me to write this post. I participated in a Facebook meme a few days ago, the point of which was to share the titles of ten books that had stayed with us over the years, even over a lifetime. I loved reading everyone’s posts and responses. It was more interesting, of course, when the list belonged to a friend, but I read the lists of people I didn’t know almost as eagerly. Somehow, strangers aren’t strangers anymore when you love the same books. (I can’t find a term for this kind of bonding but I think if we throw a few German words together Lesenliebe? Bucherverbundenheit? – it’ll get us there.) I couldn’t help but think that living in the information age makes this experience a lot easier to come by.
Here are my arguments for why this is a golden age for readers:
1. A Room with a View or, So Many Places to Talk Books:
While Facebook may more generally occupy itself otherwise (sharing kitten and baby pictures, for example), there are lots of websites where it’s all literature, all the time. Bookriot, The Rumpus, Goodreads, The Millions, The New Yorker’s Page Turner (shamelessly stolen from us), HTMLGiant, Largehearted Boy…. I could go on. And on. If you’ve read a book and you want to know what other people think about it, what the author had in mind when he/she wrote it , what music s/he was listening to, suggestions for similar books, suggestions for very different books, suggestions of books about apricots or sword-fighting or hairdressing or…. Not only is it all there, way more of it is there than you’d ever need.
2. The Shipping News or, Books Magically Appear in Your Hands:
How about accessibility to reading material? In addition to our longtime go-to resources – library and bookstore shelves – we’ve got magical new ways to get our hands on a good book. Whatever your feeling about e-readers, it’s an incredible thing that the entire text of a book can be delivered into your hands in less than a minute. And that’s even without drones. Ebooks may not be an option for everyone, but they are for more and more people. (I’m writing this post from the public library in Watertown Massachusetts, where patrons can borrow ereaders and ebooks – and the librarian tells me the demand is huge.) Another point of accessibility allowed by ebooks: because the font can be modified, many more books are available to readers who need large print.
3. On the Road or, Enjoy Your Drive to Schenectady:
Audiobooks are an earlier and lower tech creation, but what a pleasure, to know that while you’re driving to Cranston or Pittsburgh or Duluth you can…. read a book. And where this once involved cassettes and skinny brown tape that got tangled somewhere inside the dashboard, we now only have to worry about cds getting stuck in the player or forgetting to synch our ipods. Suddenly, the miles fly by. (Raise your hand if you’ve missed an exit because you were listening to a really good audiobook.)
4. Persuasion or, Tell that Author How You Really Feel:
Social media allows readers to connect directly with authors. Authors may sometimes find this to be a mixed blessing, but on the whole, it’s a tremendous opportunity for both. For readers, it’s the chance to respond to the creator of this other world they’ve experienced and loved — or hated. For a writer, few things are more gratifying than knowing s/he has moved a reader.
5. The Good Earth or, World Literacy Rates continue to rise:
Illiteracy remains one of the biggest problems facing the global community. There are almost 900 million people in the world who can’t read, 2/3rds of them female. As a percentage, however, literacy is on the rise. Global literacy was approximately 56% in 1950, 63% in 1970, 75% in 1990 and 84% in 2011 (all data from UNESCO). There are more readers on the planet than ever before.
We can argue about whether or not gold is the appropriate element to award this particular age (silicon? aluminum?). We can moan about the consolidation of publishing houses, worry about the future of independent bookstores and wonder if our grandchildren will love the feel of a cloth-bound book the way that we all do… But still — these are fortunate times for people who like to read.